Sunday, June 10, 2012

Even Tinkerbell believes in government regulation

Clap your hands if you believe that eliminating virtually all government regulation of business --  banking, employment, health and safety, environmental, insurance, food safety -- will instantly, or even slowly, transform our economy into a dynamic machine in which corporations will hire millions of new workers, always do the right thing by its customers and workers and make us all healthy, happy citizens of an unimaginable utopia. 
No?  Me neither.  
But George W. Bush did, which is why he appointed anti-regulation zealots to regulatory agencies (FDA, USDA), didn't fill empty positions in regulatory and investigative agencies, had his attorney general concentrate almost exclusively on child porn prosecutions while financial ripoffs were rampant, (Ashcroft), slowed EPA cleanups to a crawl and let his SEC investigators spend their days actually watching pornography -- all of which helped lead us to the biggest economic meltdown this side of the Great Depression.
 Mitt Romney also believes in the magic of cutting government regulation.  Here's what he says:

Federal agencies today have near plenary power to issue whatever regulations they see fit. Though most are nominally controlled by the president, in actual practice agencies are frequently able to act autonomously with little or no presidential oversight. The end result is an economy subject to the whims of unaccountable bureaucrats pursuing their own agendas.
A Romney administration will act swiftly to tear down the vast edifice of regulations the Obama administration has imposed on the economy.  It will also seek to make structural changes to the federal bureaucracy that ensure economic growth remains front and center when regulatory decisions are made.

That'll be the day. 
Certainly government regulation is not perfect.  It took 17 pounds of paperwork and 15 years  to convince the government to transfer ownership of a mothballed Vietnam War-era destroyer, the USS Edson, to a group wanting to make it a floating museum  in Michigan.
But the vast majority of government regulations are intended, and do, protect our health, safety and pocketbooks (food inspections, Occupational Safety and Health rules, Workers compensation, wage and hour regulations, consumer protection laws, environmental protection, unemployment insurance) and they retrieve billions in taxpayer money each year stolen by crooked bankers, insurers, health care providers and others.  A few examples from this year and last:
* The nation’s five largest mortgage servicers agreed in March to a landmark $25 billion settlement with a coalition of state attorneys general and federal agencies.  This is the largest joint state-federal settlement in history and it is the result of a massive civil law enforcement investigation and initiative by state attorneys general, state banking regulators, and nearly a dozen federal agencies. (Not big enough, but it's a start.)
Bartlett Grain Co. explosion
* Dr. Jacques Roy of Dallas, Texas, is accused of bilking Medicare of nearly $375 million by recruiting homeless and fake patients to sign for care that wasn't provided.  If convicted, this doctor is likely to go to prison for a very long time.
* The New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance  today (March 8, 2012) announced that in 2011 the Department recovered more than $31.8 million for consumers and medical providers from insurers and financial institutions. (Not all regulators are federal.)
* The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that BP North America Inc. has agreed to pay an $8 million penalty and invest more than $400 million to install state-of-the-art pollution controls and cut emissions from BP’s petroleum refinery in Whiting, Ind.  Kind of a middling EPA score)
* Bartlett Grain Co. L.P. faces five willful and eight serious safety violations cited by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration following an October 2011 grain elevator explosion in Atchison that killed six workers and left two others hospitalized.
* The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) next week (June 4, 2012)  will begin instituting a zero-tolerance policy for six additional strains of E. coli that are responsible for human illness.
* The owners and managers of Nifty Fifty's have pleaded guilty to skimming $15 million in receipts from their five restaurants and evading $2.2 million in federal employment and personal taxes.   We pay our taxes in this country when the pols don't provide huge loopholes.
* There are 6.6 million unemployed 18-26-year-old college students and graduates, high school grads and those in between who cannot get a job but who can, for a short time, remain on their parents' health insurance.  That's a government  regulation too.  No one on the Bush Administration gave a crap for these young people who break bones, develop odd diseases, need their wisdom teeth removed and can't be persuaded to ride their motorcycles with a helmet.
* The Department of Justice will recover $21 million from SunTrust banks, that will go back to 20,000 black and Hispanic mortgage payers who were charged high rates than other bank customers.  To find these 20,000 victims, government investigators and their computers had comb through 850,000 mortgage applications.  Truly your tax dollars at work.
* The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation's consumer protection agency, is warning consumers to be on the alert for scam artists posing as debt collectors. It may be hard to tell the difference between a legitimate debt collector and a fake one. Sometimes a fake collector may even have some of your personal information, like a bank account number.
I could write and document thousands of pages of this sort of thing every week. This is what government does. It plays cop or umpire or detective between us and countless abusive corporate interests.  It regulates and tries to control the excesses of the capitalist system.
Government investigations, regulations, arrests, indictments and sentencings go on constantly, hundreds of times a day as various agencies go about their jobs.  You never hear about 99 percent of them.  They're small potatoes.  Many of them go to jail, many pay large fines and many do both.
Then occasionally the government catches up with the Bernie Madoffs. Does his experience make you want to start a Ponzi scheme?  That''s a benefit of government regulation as well.
If  you want to see this seamy underbelly of day-to-day government, just Google the various government agencies, go to their reports or press release tabs and just start reading:  DOJ, EPA, EEOC, HSS, IRS, FTC,  Labor Department, USDA, OSHA, SEC, state departments of banking, insurance, labor, industry, health, agriculture, FBI.  I guarantee you, you won't keep up with it.
If you have access to Westlaw, look up publications called Westlaw Journal  Government Contractor, Bank and Lending, Health Care Fraud, White Collar Crime and Insurance Coverage, just for starters.  These biweeklies and monthlies chronicle the big ripoffs year after year, decade after decade.  A few issues of any of them will make you sick to your stomach, but perhaps also a little proud of what our unsung watchdogs do on their best days to catch millions of bad guys out there ripping us off.
 Romney is right.  These agencies do act autonomously with little executive oversight as do countless other federal and state agencies.  They're supposed to. They do cost businesses money, money that  businesses have stolen the taxpayers, consumers or their own employees.  Are we supposed to just sit back and let them do that in the name of a robust economy?  Forget Ayn Rand, doing well for oneself has never led to doing well for society.
Are we supposed to go back to the days of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, Love Canal, a burning Cuyahoga River, the Great Laeks filled with dead fish, acid rain, smog so bad everyone was urged to stay indoors, Bhopal, the Station nightclub fire, PCBs in cow's milk, diet drugs that kill you -- just so businesses can flourish in a unregulated climate?  Have you ever heard of Rocky Flats, Hanford or Agent Orange?  The Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act,  the Superfund Act?  Building codes, the National  Highway Transportation Safety Administration?
Clap your hands if you're are in favor of eliminating all of the regulations and regulatory agencies that are protecting us from all these things.  Do you want to return to the 1920s?  I can't hear you.

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